Weeks before declaring a national emergency as he dismissed concerns of a looming coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump was warned at least twice by his top trade adviser that the outbreak could cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars
In a January memo to the National Security Council, Peter Navarro warned the White House that an outbreak could likely lead to the deaths of half a million people in the US.
That memo called for an immediate ban on travel from China, reportedly as Mr Navarro sought to ramp up a trade war with the country.
Another memo, from February, said as many as 2 million Americans could die and warned that “now is not the time for penny-pinching or horse-trading” as the president waged political battles with his Democratic critics in Congress.
The first memo was sent to the National Security Council on 29 January, and the other was sent directly to the president on 23 February, according to Axios, which obtained copies of the memos.
Axios reports that the memos were dismissed at first as White House officials were sceptical of Mr Navarro’s “anti-China” motives, according to an unnamed senior administration official
Without citing projections, the actions recommended in his memos were seen by White House officials as potentially rattling markets and misappropriating trillions of dollars.
Mr Navarro had compared cost estimates for imposing travel restrictions on China, pointing to a loss in $2.9 billion a month or as much as $35 billion in the event of a pandemic with a year-long ban imposed.
A February memo warned of an “increasing probability of a full-blown Covid-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1-2 million souls”.
He called for an “immediate” appropriation of $2 billion for virus prevention and treatment, as well as the needs for mobilising health worker and “at least a billion” face masks, thousands of Tyvek suits, 11,000 ventilators, and 25,000 respirators.
On 24 February, the day after that memo was sent, the president said on Twitter that the virus was “very much under control” and that the stock market is “starting to look very good” to him.
The resurfacing of the memos follows reports that Mr Navarro sparred with Dr Anthony Fauci over the use of a controversial malaria drug that the president has promoted as a “game changer” against the virus, despite Dr Fauci and other health officials stressing the dangers of implementing medicine that has not been clinically tested or scaled to treat coronavirus patients.
Mr Navarro has emerged as a fierce proponent of an “America first” ideology fuelling the president’s economic policies.